Before PCs
ICL 1900
IBM 360
Facom M160-F
Canton System







ICL 1900


The new computer room at the Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS) Menswear Factory in Holbeck, Leeds around 1965. Here the ICL / ICT 1903 system used four magnetic tape units as its sole data storage medium - with punched cards as the input source. A paper tape unit provided “ticker tape” for transmission via Teletype terminals to the remote sites. The system console was also effectively a Teletype terminal. So no random access data storage or visual displays - and the processor often had to be started in the mornings by entering a machine code bootstrap via hand switches.


Outside the CWS Holbeck computer room was the area shortly to be occupied by the team of punch card operators and a card sorter.


The two other members of the Leeds Systems / Programming Team (Allan Sale and Peter Morrell) sat at the Teletype console observed by two specialists from CWS Manchester (?? and Wilf Tetlow).


A view from a tower block across the road from The Mint with Leeds Parish Church visible through the haze. The slab-like structures to the left of the car park were World War II air raid shelters. All has now gone ...

The software used by the CWS was custom-written in PLAN - with a separate Fortran application used to predict raw materials stocking requirements at the Mint and the three (?) other CWS factories.

Through the efforts of various volunteers the technical manuals for the ICL 1900 series and its PLAN programming language are available online.

Most of personal reminders have long since gone - but a few odd bits do survive; -

Images for the above are now online ...

The former staff of the Computer & Punch Rooms in the 1960s have recently (Nov 2016) set-up a closed group on Facebook - search there for CWS at The Mint Leeds to find out how it is progressing. You will need to become a friend of one of the existing group members to be able to see the content.


After a few more years at the CWS it was time to move on to something more challenging. And the Provident group had plans for implementing one of the biggest ICL 1900 systems in the UK. This company notice to staff outlines the IT business plans at the Provident head office in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Provident Clothing & Supply - Data Processing Summary

For the last 3 years an NCR 315 has been employed in the shop accounting area. A project to integrate the whole of the company’s activity embracing credit issue, collections and shop accounting is now planned. The NCR 315 will be replaced with a very powerful dual processor 1906F.

Systems work has been progressing for over 15 months in anticipation of programming commencing on the 10th March 1969. This target date will be adhered to. The System team consists of eight people at the present time although additional analysts will be recruited in the near future.

The delivery of the 1906F will be phased as follows:-

1 May 1969 - install 1901 (16k) with 4 tapes 3 disks, card reader, printer.
2 March 1970 - install 1904F (32k) with 4 tapes, 3 disks, card reader, printer.
3 June 1970 - install 1904F (32k) with 4 tapes, 3 disks, card reader, printer.
4 June 1970 - combine both 1904F’s to become a 1906F - remove 1901.

From the above it can be established that the first machine is due within five months, This computer will be used purely for program/systems testing. It is anticipated that the first phase of the new system will "go alive" in mid 1970 on the 1906F. The investigation into the selection of a document reader is continuing and a decision will be made within the next few months.
Installation is anticipated in the Spring of 1970. It is anticipated that I.B.M. data preparation equipment will be used. The total number of staff within the Data Processing Department is expected to be around 120 by mid 1970.







Some shots of the new ICL 1900 system at Provident - and staff drinks at a nearby pub for Christmas 1970 ...


ICL Australia

2017-02-16-0033After many long days working to implement the massive daily Provident database update the prospect of a bit of guaranteed sunshine seemed too good to miss. Luckily my interview at Putney Bridge House went well and Christmas 1970 was spent packing and selling our home in Bradford.

So my wife Irene and I flew off to Sydney in January 1971 - across the USA and Pacific by 747 - to my new job in the ICL Bureau. And using the 10 assisted passage scheme!

We were met on arrival at Mascot by both my cousin and ICL’s Noel Fogarty - a West Australian working at the Arthur Street, North Sydney HQ. After unpacking at North Sydney Travelodge and a bit of sleep it was off to the ICL offices before the Australia Day weekend kicked-in.

There were two other joiners from the UK - Colin Smith and Sandy Hinshelwood - and I seem to remember playing liar dice with them and various ICL staff until late (Richard Cross, Gerry Van Pypen and ???)

Must try to find any photos of ICL staff that have survived the 50 years since ..

When the chance came up to move to ICL’s Software Development Centre (SDC) at the South Australian Institute of Technology it was too good to miss - with all my mother’s relatives being in SA.

SDC did however not survive very long at SAIT before being moved to Bracknell. I moved instead to the ICL Adelaide Bureau - then on Wakefield Street in the CBD. [When SDC closed I was given a copy of Dregs of SDC on mag tape for safe keeping. It travelled around with us for decades before being passed over to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park]

After year or so the opportunity to take over as IT Manager at retailer Harris Scarfe meant that my time as an ICL employee was over. Even though there was one final disastrous chapter when the switch of Harris Scarfe from Burroughs to 2900 series fell apart and IBM stepped in over the wreckage! Best forgotten ..

[Sandy Hinshelwood went on to be Data Centre Manager at ICL Queensland then DP Manager at AGC before joining Computer Management Services.]


Above: Upgrading the ICL Bureau computers at Arthur Street, North Sydney in 1971 - with eight new tape decks getting unpacked.


The text under the picture reads -

An appropriate place to celebrate the order - the Pullman Room Restaurant at the North Sydney Travelodge. Left to Right: Brian Townsley, Alan Cox, Colin Smith, Warren Hodges and Brendan Birthistle. Unfortunately when the photograph was taken Brian Michael was on the sick list.

Where are they now? Well Warren’s obituary appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in Oct 1979. He was working at ICL until the end. Colin, who started with me as a Pom recruit, I think went overseas - possibly Papua New Guinea - for a another job in IT most likely involving an ICL 1900. But Alan, Brendan and the other Brian just disappeared from my work group as we took the chance to move to South Australia and a different job within the ICL group.

Update 24-Jan-2022 - Colin Smith and wife Iris (nee Steensma) have, I think, been traced to Kerikeri, New Zealand - so hoping to be able to pass on a few photos from our brief time working together in Sydney - even though around 50 years late.

Having some new facts enabled some more targeted web searches that turned up yet more related info. One being Col Smith’s post about the family’s time in Bouganville  - http://bclcomments.blogspot.com/2010/06/col-smith.html - to go with Tina White’s 2017 report on Iris Smith-Steensma's memoir: I Lived in a Library, on the Manawatu Heritage website. The latest addition to the story is this entry on Amazon’s Author section - https://www.amazon.com/col-smith/e/B084X5HKZ6/ref=aufs_dp_mata_dsk - covering his novella Night Flight on Kindle.

 Below - It’s 1971 and a few staff from ICL North Sydney have evening drinks at our Lane Cove unit; (l to r) Col Smith, Iris Smith-Steensma, Gerry Van Pypen and a lady whose name escapes me!





The caption read - “The plane facts” the Hawker Siddley team: Brian Townsley, Bill Meeke, Jan Chisholm, Ed Reynolds and Brian Calvert



Also from February 1974 the caption under this picture is - “With Adelaide at their feet” would be an appropriate caption for our SA sales team as well as for this photo left to right on the back row are - Brian Cox, Brian Nicholls, John Smith, Bill Meeke, Brian Calvert, Brian Townsley and Val Mickan whilst in the front are Ian Sterzl, Gary Preston, Val Peterson, Patricia LeRay, Robin Pierce, Peggy Mills, Jan Chisholm, Colin Bell and Gordon Beveridge.


Some more soon ... about my experience with users of ICT / ICL 1900 systems - and have now found that the ICL Allstars Magazine Summer 2019 issue had me on their missing list (but as Brian Townley rather than Townsley)





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